Organized by Raycom Sports, the game was scheduled between the University of Southern California Trojans and the University of Illinois Fighting Illini to open their regular seasons. Arrangements were made for a network telecast back to the United States, and airplanes were chartered for fans to fly to the Soviet Union. Due to complications, however, the game was rescheduled for Los Angeles, California as a USC home game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Scheduled for September 2, 1989, the chosen site was Moscow's Dynamo Stadium, a soccer facility in the northwest of the city with a then-stadium capacity of 50,000 persons (it currently has a 36,540 person capacity). The game planners hoped for 3,500 fans from each school, plus school marching bands and cheerleaders, as well as 43,000 Soviet spectators. In addition to the United States, Raycom planned to broadcast the game in the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand and Australia; the Soviets planned to broadcast to republics of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc via the state-run Gostelradio. The agreement between Raycom and Sovintersport had the Soviets keeping profits from their telecast, Raycom taking profits from the U.S. telecast and travel packages, and a split of the stadium gate (although tickets at the gate were planned for the equivalent of $1). Additionally, the two sides agreed to broadcast a five-minute instructional video to be shown on Soviet television during the months before the game: explaining the basic rules, positions, "When do you cheer at a football game?", and other basics.
The participating teams were not immediately selected, and a number of major Division I-A college football programs took interest in taking part in the historic game, including Florida, University of Miami, Florida State, Penn State, Alabama, Texas and UCLA. With the relatively short notice, interested teams needed to rearrange their schedules as the NCAA did not grant the game an exception to its then-rule permitting only 11 regular season games. To help encourage teams, Raycom offered US$300,000 to participating schools; however, the logistics remained difficult. Some teams, like Miami, were concerned about playing a difficult game abroad; others, like Florida, were unable to get out of previously scheduled games. Teams like Wisconsin and Penn State were concerned about losing a home game and the extra income generated by such games (in some cases over $1 million). Also, with the game to be broadcast on ABC, teams in the Southeastern Conference, like Florida, had to further sort out complications with their exclusive television contract with TBS. By early November, the field of candidates was reduced to USC and Illinois: Kansas was willing to release USC from its commitment during that week and Illinois was open to having Raycom buy out one of its already scheduled games. The match-up was officially confirmed on November 15.
However, despite these initial concerns, the general mood was optimistic. Both sides wanted the game to work. The kickoff was set for 8 p.m., Moscow time, and televised live in the U.S. at 9 a.m., Pacific time. ABC assigned a veteran group of sportscasters with Keith Jackson, Bob Griese and Mike Adamle. Raycom agreed to bring in AstroTurf for the stadium. The American media regularly touched on the novelty of the event, citing the shared colors of the Trojans uniforms and the Soviet flag and the name of Illinois' legendary Red Grange.
Illinois rewarded 14 graduating seniors from its 1988 team to join them at the game the next year at the university's expense. While the Trojans' Spirit of Troy marching band and cheerleaders were scheduled to make the trip, USC needed to adapt its mascot, Traveler, a white horse with Trojan-costumed rider, by sending the rider and substituting a local Russian white horse. The game also survived a February-March 1989 legal battle between American promoters involved with Raycom.
Illinois head coach John Mackovic, USC head coach Larry Smith and their staffs visited Moscow in Spring 1989 to plan around the facilities and accommodations; the Soviet officials remained worried about the violence of the game, asking if ten ambulances were enough. The teams realized that they needed to bring all the necessary equipment for a major college football match-up: including footballs, goal posts, play clocks, cooks, a large amount of food (2,000 pounds per team, and the large quantity of ice used for football related strains and injuries. The plan had the teams flying by chartered jets from Los Angeles and Chicago to Moscow on August 28, having two days of practice before the game, sightseeing after the game and then returning on September 4. Travel packages for fans, including airfare and hotel, were sold starting at $2,595.
Like the Olympics, the game itself became a political football for thawing relations between the superpowers: American Congressional personnel and agencies at both the state and federal level showed interest in participation, along with Soviet counterparts in their foreign ministries. Tentative plans were already being developed for the second Glasnost Bowl, between Miami and Penn State. Illinois baseball coach Augie Garrido suggested creating a two-sport doubleheader with both universities' baseball teams preceding the game..
Indeed, a lack of inter-cultural experience on both sides combined with the traditional byzantine Soviet bureaucracy and way of business proved to be the dooming factors for the game. Just to form the "final" game contract, Raycom officials met with six different sets of Soviet negotiating teams, signing at last on April 27 in Moscow - nine months after the game was first announced. Executives at Raycom felt in the end that the game was a few years premature given the changes occurring in the Soviet Union at the time.
As per the original contract plans, the game was immediately shifted to the Coliseum, with USC agreeing to eventually play Illinois at home in Champaign, Illinois; ABC still decided to carry the game, moving it to the Labor Day holiday. The game was played in Los Angeles on September 4, with the #22-ranked Fighting Illini upseting the #5 Trojans by a score of 14 to 13 in a tight contest before an attendance of 54,622. The teams finally played the second half of the home-and-home arrangement seven years later: On September 7, 1996, the #19 Trojans routed the Illini 55-3 in front of 56,504 at Memorial Stadium.